civic space

 

  • Russia’s presidential election: a decline in citizen rights

    By Natalia Taubina and Bobbie Jo Traut

    The re-election of Vladimir Putin has been preceded by a significant crackdown on freedom of assembly and rule of law. The CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks and rates civil society conditions across all UN member states in close to real-time, has found that civic space in Russia has closed dramatically as civil society groups have been publicly vilified and marginalised.

    Read on: Open Democracy 

     

     

  • Scenario planning for agile strategic alignment

    By Tamryn Lee Fourie, Jerusha Govender and Khotso Tsotsotso

    For CIVICUS, and civil society as a whole, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically shifted the way we work, and the world we work in.  Keeping this in mind, moving towards the end of the Alliance’s current Strategic Plan 2017-2022, we asked ourselves – how can we stay strategically relevant, given the lack of clarity on what lies ahead, and realising the already stretched capacity of staff and membership?

    In these uncertain times, Foresight Approaches such as scenario planning, are one potential tool for strategy development, and is a key element of CIVICUS Alliance current strategic realignment process. 

    Across February and March 2021, we engaged Data Innovators to review existing foresight analysis and scenario planning documents from members and partners, interact with CIVICUS members, and produce future scenarios related to civic space and citizen action. We then sense-checked these scenarios with allies from other sectors to identify potential disruptors and strategic opportunities that we may have missed. 

    The Scenarios 

    Four scenarios emerged to guide CIVICUS leadership and support other CSOs in similar stages of reviewing strategy, documented from the perspective of ‘Olwethu’, a civic activist and our persona. The four scenarios are summarised below:

    scenario planning blog

    Read more about the scenarios here

    These scenarios are helping CIVICUS to unpack necessary amendments to our existing strategy, use the four potential futures to open discussion on where specific implementation focus is needed, and keep our constituents (i.e. “Olwethu”) at the centre. Similarly, other CSOs may also find these scenarios useful when considering strategic refinement.

    How you can use these scenarios to realign your own strategies:

    This exercise stress-tests current strategies for different contexts. It is good practice to identify "No brainers,” - strategies robust across the range of scenarios. However, scenarios may also be sufficiently diverse to require strategies unique to each context. 

    Recommended steps to test strategies against these scenarios:

    Step 1:Take one scenario at a time, for a moment, assume this scenario occurs. Discuss and explore different aspects, ensuring all participants understand the critical elements.

    Step 2:Once the scenario is understood, pose the following questions and document the responses:

    • Is your set of strategic objectives appropriate in the scenario?
    • What obvious gaps are there in the current strategy for the scenario?
    • What additional/alternative strategies should be developed to close the gaps?
    • Considering the gaps/alternatives, how should the Theory of Change (ToC) be adjusted?

    Step 3:Repeat steps one and two for each scenario until all scenarios are covered.

    If you have sufficient time, move on to step 4…

    Step 4:Stand back, look at the lists of strategic options for each scenario. Identify those that show up on all or most scenarios. These are the "no brainers," the strategic options that look good in all scenarios. Start working on a consolidated Theory of Change that draws on the common strategic options, with gaps covered/replaced by alternative strategies. Take steps to address potential bias by asking those outside your regular “circle” to review and validate your work.

    Step 5:Test the ToC for logic and refine it. And finally, update the current strategy.

    We hope you find these useful! Please let us know if you have any feedback on how you have used these scenarios in your strategy reviews. We would be most interested to hear your experiences and insights!

     

  • Seis de cada diez países reprimen duramente las libertades cívicas

    Estos resultados se basan en los datos publicados hoy por el Monitor CIVICUS, un proyecto global de investigación colaborativo cuyo objetivo es la evaluación y el seguimiento del respeto de las libertades fundamentales en 196 países.

    CIVICUS acaba de publicar hoy People Power Under Attack 2018, un nuevo informe que pone de manifiesto que casi seis de cada diez países están restringiendo gravemente las libertades fundamentales de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión de las personas. Esta proporción refleja la crisis continua a la que se enfrentan las organizaciones de la sociedad civil y los activistas de todo el mundo y, además, pone en relieve el hecho de que el espacio para el activismo cívico se ve con frecuencia socavado a través de la censura, los ataques contra periodistas y el acoso a defensores y defensoras de los derechos humanos.

    «Estos datos constituyen una señal de alerta. Dada la magnitud del problema, los líderes mundiales, incluido el G20 que se reúne esta semana, deben tomarse mucho más en serio la protección de las libertades cívicas», declaró Cathal Gilbert, director de investigación sobre el espacio cívico de CIVICUS. «En 2018 la sociedad civil fue testigo de la aplicación de varias innovaciones por parte de los Estados con el objetivo de erradicar y acallar las críticas de aquellos que se atreven a desafiar al poder».

    El informe se basa en datos del Monitor CIVICUS – un proyecto de investigación colaborativo – y muestra que la sociedad civil es objeto de graves ataques en 111 de los 196 países analizados, es decir, casi seis de cada diez países de todo el mundo. Esta cifra es superior a la de nuestra última actualización de marzo de 2018 en la cual se contabilizaban 109 países. En la práctica, esto significa que la represión del activismo cívico pacífico sigue teniendo nefastas consecuencias para la sociedad civil en todas partes del mundo, ya que sólo el 4 % de la población mundial vive en países donde los gobiernos respetan debidamente las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión.

    La clasificación del espacio cívico de nueve países ha empeorado en esta última actualización mientras que ha mejorado la de otros siete. La situación se ha degradado en Austria, Azerbaiyán, Gabón, Kuwait, Italia, Nauru, Papúa Nueva Guinea, Tanzania y Senegal, y ha mejorado en Canadá, Ecuador, Etiopía, Gambia, Liberia, Lituania y Somalia.

    El informe People Power Under Attack 2018 también ofrece un análisis sobre los tipos de violaciones más frecuentes registradas en el Monitor CIVICUS durante los últimos dos años. A nivel mundial, los ataques contra periodistas y la censura representan los dos tipos de violaciones más comunes, lo que indica que los que tienen el poder están haciendo todo lo posible por controlar el discurso colectivo y reprimir la libertad de expresión. El hostigamiento de activistas y el uso excesivo de la fuerza por parte de las fuerzas de seguridad durante las manifestaciones son el tercero y cuarto tipo de violación más común registrada en el Monitor CIVICUS desde octubre de 2016.

    «Aunque existe una gran preocupación por la proliferación de leyes restrictivas y no sin razón, nuestros datos muestran que no son más que la punta del iceberg. Las medidas extrajudiciales, como los ataques contra periodistas o manifestantes, son mucho más comunes», declaró Gilbert. «Estas tácticas han sido concebidas de forma cínica y pretenden crear un efecto disuasivo y evitar que los demás se expresen o se conviertan en ciudadanos activos».

    Los datos publicados hoy por CIVICUS también traen buenas noticias. Tanto en los siete países en los que mejoró la clasificación del espacio cívico como en otros lugares, vemos pruebas claras de que el activismo pacífico puede obligar a los gobiernos represivos a seguir un camino diferente. En Etiopía, por ejemplo, tras años de disturbios y una fuerte represión de todas las formas de disidencia, el 2018 supuso un giro notable. El nuevo primer ministro, Abiy Ahmed, ha liberado a presos políticos, ha suavizado las restricciones impuestas sobre las comunicaciones electrónicas y ha logrado importantes avances en la reforma de algunas de las leyes más represivas del país. Los cambios en el liderazgo político en Gambia y el Ecuador también han conducido a un mejor entorno para el ejercicio de las libertades fundamentales.

    «Las recientes mejoras en Etiopía muestran lo que se puede lograr cuando existe voluntad política y cuando los líderes toman decisiones valientes para responder a los llamamientos de la sociedad civil», afirmó Gilbert. «Este debería ser un ejemplo para los países represivos de todo el mundo. Al eliminar las restricciones y proteger el espacio cívico, los países pueden aprovechar el verdadero potencial de la sociedad civil y acelerar su progreso en una gran cantidad de frentes».

    Más de veinte organizaciones colaboran en el Monitor CIVICUS con el objetivo de proporcionar una base empírica para llevar a cabo acciones destinadas a mejorar el espacio cívico en todos los continentes. El Monitor ha publicado más de 1 400 actualizaciones sobre el espacio cívico en los últimos dos años y dichos datos son analizados en el informe People Power Under Attack 2018. El espacio cívico de 196 países queda clasificado en una de las cinco categorías disponibles – cerrado, reprimido, obstruido, estrecho o abierto – siguiendo una metodología que combina varias fuentes de datos sobre las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión.

     

  • Seis de cada diez países reprimen duramente las libertades cívicas

     

    Estos resultados se basan en los datos publicados hoy por el Monitor CIVICUS, un proyecto global de investigación colaborativo cuyo objetivo es la evaluación y el seguimiento del respeto de las libertades fundamentales en 196 países. 

    CIVICUS acaba de publicar hoy El Poder Ciudadano Bajo Ataque, un nuevo informe que pone de manifiesto que casi seis de cada diez países están restringiendo gravemente las libertades fundamentales de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión de las personas. Esta proporción refleja la crisis continua a la que se enfrentan las organizaciones de la sociedad civil y los activistas de todo el mundo y, además, pone en relieve el hecho de que el espacio para el activismo cívico se ve con frecuencia socavado a través de la censura, los ataques contra periodistas y el acoso a defensores y defensoras de los derechos humanos. 

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    Estos resultados se basan en los datos publicados hoy por el Monitor CIVICUS, un proyecto global de investigación colaborativo cuyo objetivo es la evaluación y el seguimiento del respeto de las libertades fundamentales en 196 países. 

    CIVICUS acaba de publicar hoy El Poder Ciudadano Bajo Ataque, un nuevo informe que pone de manifiesto que casi seis de cada diez países están restringiendo gravemente las libertades fundamentales de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión de las personas. Esta proporción refleja la crisis continua a la que se enfrentan las organizaciones de la sociedad civil y los activistas de todo el mundo y, además, pone en relieve el hecho de que el espacio para el activismo cívico se ve con frecuencia socavado a través de la censura, los ataques contra periodistas y el acoso a defensores y defensoras de los derechos humanos. 

    El informe se basa en datos del Monitor CIVICUS – un proyecto de investigación colaborativo – y muestra que la sociedad civil es objeto de graves ataques en 111 de los 196 países analizados, es decir, casi seis de cada diez países de todo el mundo. Esta cifra es superior a la de nuestra última actualización de marzo de 2018 en la cual se contabilizaban 109 países. En la práctica, esto significa que la represión del activismo cívico pacífico sigue teniendo nefastas consecuencias para la sociedad civil en todas partes del mundo, ya que sólo el 4 % de la población mundial vive en países donde los gobiernos respetan debidamente las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión.

    La clasificación del espacio cívico de nueve países ha empeorado en esta última actualización mientras que ha mejorado la de otros siete. La situación se ha degradado en Austria, Azerbaiyán, Gabón, Kuwait, Italia, Nauru, Papúa Nueva Guinea, Tanzania y Senegal, y ha mejorado en Canadá, Ecuador, Etiopía, Gambia, Liberia, Lituania y Somalia. 

    El informe El Poder Ciudadano Bajo Ataque, también ofrece un análisis sobre los tipos de violaciones más frecuentes registradas en el Monitor CIVICUS durante los últimos dos años. A nivel mundial, los ataques contra periodistas y la censura representan los dos tipos de violaciones más comunes, lo que indica que los que tienen el poder están haciendo todo lo posible por controlar el discurso colectivo y reprimir la libertad de expresión. El hostigamiento de activistas y el uso excesivo de la fuerza por parte de las fuerzas de seguridad durante las manifestaciones son el tercero y cuarto tipo de violación más común registrada en el Monitor CIVICUS desde octubre de 2016.

    «Aunque existe una gran preocupación por la proliferación de leyes restrictivas y no sin razón, nuestros datos muestran que no son más que la punta del iceberg. Las medidas extrajudiciales, como los ataques contra periodistas o manifestantes, son mucho más comunes», declaró Belalba.. «Estas tácticas han sido concebidas de forma cínica y pretenden crear un efecto disuasivo y evitar que los demás se expresen o se conviertan en ciudadanos activos».

    Los datos publicados hoy por CIVICUS también traen buenas noticias. Tanto en los siete países en los que mejoró la clasificación del espacio cívico como en otros lugares, vemos pruebas claras de que el activismo pacífico puede obligar a los gobiernos represivos a seguir un camino diferente. En Etiopía, por ejemplo, tras años de disturbios y una fuerte represión de todas las formas de disidencia, el 2018 supuso un giro notable. El nuevo primer ministro, Abiy Ahmed, ha liberado a presos políticos, ha suavizado las restricciones impuestas sobre las comunicaciones electrónicas y ha logrado importantes avances en la reforma de algunas de las leyes más represivas del país. Los cambios en el liderazgo político en Gambia y el Ecuador también han conducido a un mejor entorno para el ejercicio de las libertades fundamentales. 

    «Las recientes mejoras en Etiopía muestran lo que se puede lograr cuando existe voluntad política y cuando los líderes toman decisiones valientes para responder a los llamamientos de la sociedad civil», afirmó Belalba. «Este debería ser un ejemplo para los países represivos de todo el mundo. Al eliminar las restricciones y proteger el espacio cívico, los países pueden aprovechar el verdadero potencial de la sociedad civil y acelerar su progreso en una gran cantidad de frentes».

    Más de veinte organizaciones colaboran en el Monitor CIVICUS con el objetivo de proporcionar una base empírica para llevar a cabo acciones destinadas a mejorar el espacio cívico en todos los continentes. El Monitor ha publicado más de 1,400 actualizaciones sobre el espacio cívico en los últimos dos años y dichos datos son analizados en el informe El Poder Ciudadano Bajo Ataque. El espacio cívico de 196 países queda clasificado en una de las cinco categorías disponibles – cerradoreprimido,obstruido ,estrecho orabierto – siguiendo una metodología que combina varias fuentes de datos sobre las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión. 

     

  • SERBIA: ‘The political crisis will deepen as a large number of people lack representation’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ivana Teofilović about the causes of recent protests and the government’s reaction to them, as well as about the elections held in Serbia under the COVID-19 pandemic. Ivana is public policy programme coordinator at Civic Initiatives, a Serbian citizens’ association aimed at strengthening civil society through civic education, the promotion of democractic values and practices and the creation of opportunities for people’s participation.

    Ivana Teofilovic

    Why did protests erupt in Serbia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how did the government react?

    The immediate reason for the mass and spontaneous gathering of citizens in July 2020 was the announcement of the introduction of a new curfew, that is, another 72-hour ban on movement. After the president’s press conference ended, dissatisfied people began to gather in front of the National Assembly in the capital, Belgrade. Although the immediate reason was dissatisfaction with the management of the COVID-19 crisis, people also wanted to express their unhappiness about numerous other government measures and their impacts, and particularly with the conditions in which the recent parliamentary elections were held.

    In response, the security forces used unjustified force in dozens of cases and exceeded the powers entrusted to them by law. Their violent response to spontaneous peaceful assemblies was a gross violation of the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and an unwarranted threat to the physical integrity of a large number of protesters. The protests were marked by the use of a huge amount of teargas, which was indiscriminately thrown into the masses of peaceful demonstrators. As a result, many protesters had health issues for days afterwards. Apart from the fact that unjustifiably large quantities of teargas were used, the public's attention was captured by the fact that the teargas fired was past its expiry date.

    The media and citizens also reported and documented many cases of police brutality, including that of three young men who were sitting quietly on a bench and were repeatedly beaten by a gendarmerie officer with a baton. In another incident, a young man was knocked to the ground and hit with batons by 19 officers, even though two members of the Ombudsman’s Office were on duty near the scene, precisely to control the conduct of the police. Additional disturbances and acts of violence were perpetrated by a large number of individuals in civilian clothes. At the time it could not be determined whether they were police in civilian clothes, or members of parapolice forces or criminal groups, but many clues point to them being members of hooligan groups connected with the authorities and working on their orders.

    Media representatives also played a very important role in the protests. In this context, many media workers behaved professionally and reported objectively on the protests, often becoming victims of police brutality or attacks by members of hooligan groups infiltrated among protesters to incite rioting. According to the Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS), as many as 28 journalists were attacked while covering protests, and 14 suffered bodily injuries, which in six cases required urgent medical attention. According to a statement issued by NUNS, the most seriously injured was Zikica Stevanovic, a reporter of the Beta news agency.

    However, media outlets that are close to the government either ignored or distorted the real picture of the protests by disseminating lies about who organised, funded and participated in them and by ignoring or denying cases of obvious police brutality. Journalists, analysts and civil society activists who publicly supported the protests and spoke critically about the government and the president were often the target of tabloid campaigns, and were smeared by the holders of high political office in an attempt to discredit their work.

    Bureaucratic measures were also used against them, for example through their inclusion on a list compiled by the Ministry of Finance’s Directorate for Prevention of Money Laundering, which required banks to look into all the financial transactions they made over the past year. The associations and individuals who were targeted published a joint statement with over 270 signatures to call on the authorities to urgently make public the reasons for any suspicion that these organisations and individuals were involved in money laundering or terrorist financing. They also made clear that these pressures would not deter them from fighting for a democratic and free Serbia.

    Violent police reaction, indiscriminate brutality, non-objective reporting and government retaliation further motivated people to protest. As a result, people took to the streets in even greater numbers in the following days. Protests also began to take place in several other Serbian cities besides Belgrade, including Kragujevac, Nis, Novi Sad and Smederevo.

    Has civil society experienced additional challenges to continue doing its work under the pandemic?

    Under the state of emergency imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also after the state of emergency was lifted, civil society organisations (CSOs) faced numerous difficulties that greatly hindered their work. During the first weeks of the state of emergency, some CSOs that provide services to vulnerable people were unable to perform their activities due to the ban on movement, a difficulty that was only gradually and partly overcome over time as special permits were issued to certain categories of people.

    Another challenge was posed by the Regulation on Fiscal Benefits and Direct Benefits, adopted in response to the economic impacts of the pandemic. This regulation did not extend exemption from value-added tax (VAT) to food, consumer goods and services donated to the non-profit and humanitarian sector to support socially vulnerable groups. For this reason, a group of CSOs sent the Ministry of Finance a proposal to extend the VAT exemption.

    The biggest challenge for CSOs was financial sustainability, which was especially endangered by the suspension of the competition for co-financing projects of public importance, both at the national and local levels. In addition, while the provisions of the Regulation on Fiscal Benefits and Direct Benefits were insufficiently clear when it came to CSOs, they unequivocally excluded informal citizens’ initiatives, and thus jeopardised their survival.

    In addition, the right to the freedom of expression was especially endangered during the pandemic. Challenges included restrictions faced by the press to attend and ask questions at Crisis Staff press conferences, the disregard of media representatives by officials in government bodies and institutions, and the persecution of media outlets that pointed to negative consequences during the pandemic. These restrictions opened up opportunities for the dissemination of unverified information. The lack of timely and factual information led to the further spread of panic and it became clear that in addition to the pandemic, Serbia also faced an ‘infodemic’.

    What are the views of civil society about the government response to the pandemic, including the conditions under whichthe recent elections were held?

    Despite the very unfavourable position they found themselves in, CSOs played a significant role during the COVID-19 crisis. CSOs had a significant role to play in correcting government failings, as they put forward numerous quality proposals for overcoming the crisis. In many situations it was CSOs, due to better training, that took over the roles of certain civil services. The general impression is that the state was not ready for the crisis, and therefore did not have enough capacity to provide a better response. 

    Due to its closed nature, the government used the need of urgency and efficiency as a pretext to bypass dialogue. In adopting some measures, there were frequent violations of laws and the constitution, and of people’s rights, particularly the right of journalists to do their work. Economic measures were not adopted in a timely and effective manner, which endangered many CSOs and their activists, ultimately having their greatest impact on people as users of CSO services.

    Regarding the parliamentary elections, which were held on 21 June after being postponed from their original date of 26 April, there is still an unanswered question regarding the government’s responsibility for conducting an election process under the pandemic. There is suspicion that the decision to hold the election was politically motivated and irresponsible. This was reinforced by the fact that in the weeks following the election, the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths drastically increased. It seems that the efforts made by some CSOs to create conditions for free and democratic elections have not yielded the desired results.

    What were the main issues that got in the way of a free and fair election?

    Beyond the pandemic, the major concern about the elections was that they were dominated by the ruling party, including through pressure on critical journalists and media outlets and control of mainstream media, which lack a diversity of opinions and balanced coverage and are used for campaign purposes.

    Media coverage during the election campaign was slightly more balanced than in previous elections, because the government wanted to prove that complaints from the public and the political opposition regarding poor election conditions and the captivity of the media were baseless. In principle, candidates were treated equally by public media, although public officials campaigning on a daily basis also received a lot of additional coverage. On top of this, members of the opposition who had decided to boycott the elections and therefore did not present candidates did not have room to present their arguments on national television.

    The unequal treatment of candidates was especially visible in national commercial television channels, which provided logistical support to the ruling party and its coalition partners. This problem was exacerbated by the passive stance adopted by the Electronic Media Regulatory Body (REM), which played an almost imperceptible role during the election campaign. In May 2020, REM changed its methodology of monitoring the media representation of political actors, counting every mention of a political option as proof of media representation. This led to the conclusion that the opposition Alliance for Serbia was the most represented party. But in reality, the Alliance for Serbia, which boycotted the elections, did not receive any media coverage on national television; rather it was the most frequent target of attacks by the ruling party and its allied media. In this area, another problem is the uneven normative framework: REM’s regulations relating to public media services are legally binding, but those relating to commercial broadcasters are drafted in the form of recommendations and have no binding effect, and there are no effective safeguards against violations.

    What are the implications of the election results for human rights and democracy in Serbia?

    The ruling Serbian Progressive Party, truly a right-wing party, won over 60 per cent of the vote, claiming approximately 190 seats in the 250-seat parliament. Their coalition partner, the Socialist Party of Serbia, came second with about 10 per cent of the vote, adding approximately 30 seats to the coalition. As a result, the National Assembly was left without opposition representatives, opening additional space for unlimited and legally unhindered exercise of power by the ruling party. The past four years are proof that the mere presence of the opposition in parliament is not a sufficient barrier to arbitrariness, as the government has perfected mechanisms to make parliamentary procedures meaningless and restrict the freedom of speech of opposition representatives. But some opposition legislators, through their initiatives, public appearances and proposals, managed to draw attention to numerous scandals and violations of the law by state officials.

    The protests that came after the elections seem to point towards further political polarisation and a deepening of the political crisis, as a large number of people lack representation and feel deprived of the right to elect their representatives without fear through free and democratic elections. The latest attempts to deal with civil society, journalists and prominent critical individuals by promoting investigations of money laundering or terrorist financing speak about deepening polarisation. The development of human rights requires coordination and cooperation of CSOs and state bodies as well as social consensus and political will, so this is certainly not contributing to an improvement of the human rights situation in Serbia. On the contrary, it is leading to an increasingly serious crisis, the aggravation of inequalities and injustices and more frequent protests.

    Civic space in Serbia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Civic Initiatives through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@gradjanske on Twitter.

     

  • Serbia’s Civic Space Downgraded

    The downgrade is based on an assessment of conditions for the exercise of the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    CIVICUS has today downgraded Serbia’s civic space rating from Narrowed to Obstructed. The decision was taken following a thorough assessment of the state of civic freedoms in the country as protected by international law. The downgrade follows CIVICUS’ regular monitoring of the situation with our members and partners, after the government has taken a number of steps to restrict the work of independent journalists and civil society groups. The decision comes after over two years of rule by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), during which the space for civil society has come under concerted attack. The cumulative impact of threats, smears and the threat of physical attacks against civil society have led to the Serbia’s downgrade in the CIVICUS Monitor. An Obstructed rating indicates a situation where the state imposes a variety of legal and extra-legal restrictions on civil society through demeaning statements and bureaucratic restrictions.

    “The Serbian government appears intent on turning its back on civic freedoms, by allowing and enabling numerous abuses against civil society to go unpunished,” said Dominic Perera, Civic Space Research Advisor at CIVICUS. “Serbia has witnessed a steady decline in civic space through smear campaigns and threats directed at critics of the government coupled with a worryingly sharp increase in attacks against journalists.”

    The downgrade takes place against the backdrop of widespread protests which took place across Serbia for much of 2019. In this environment, the government has ramped up tactics designed to intimidate those who question power holders, especially on contentious issues such as corruption. Instead of conducting thorough and impartial investigations into abuses of power, public officials have doubled down on their efforts to publicly discredit journalists and organisations working to promote social justice. This includes several prominent members of the SNS party openly accusing anti-corruption activists of working to promote foreign interests for acting as government watchdogs.

    Freedom of expression has also experienced a rapid decline, with the number of attacks against journalists doubling since 2016, rising to 77 separate incidents in 2018 alone. This is further compounded by the government’s appropriation of media outlets, which has led to a situation where investigative journalists and news programmes have been mysteriously taken off air or fired. This alarming combination of tactics signals a closure of spaces for independent dissent.

    Meanwhile, the number of government-affiliated NGOs has soared. These state sponsored organisations often orchestrate smear campaigns against independent organisations and activists which criticise the government.

    “CIVICUS calls on the Serbian authorities to halt the erosion of spaces for dissent”, said Perera. “We call on the government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with civil society and to heed the calls of civil society and the EU to promote an enabling environment for civil society.”

    Serbia is now rated Obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Serbia’s homepage for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates. In December 2019, CIVICUS will release People Power Under Attack 2019 - a global analysis on the threats and trends facing civil society in 196 countries.

     

  • Singapore must expand civic space and end undue restrictions on fundamental freedoms: UN Human Rights Council Side Event

    Amidst emerging threats to civic space, representatives from civil society called on Singapore’s Government to abide by its international legal obligations and commitments to respect fundamental freedoms in a Human Rights Council side event held on 29 September, a day before the adoption of the outcomes from Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

     

  • SINGAPORE: ‘Opposition parties were given unfavourable coverage by the state media and had difficulty accessing voters’

    CIVICUS speaks to human rights defender Jolovan Wham about the recent elections in Singapore, which were held in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. TheCIVICUS Monitor has documented the use of restrictive laws in Singapore against civil society activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, independent online media outlets and members of the political opposition, who face prosecution, including through defamation suits and contempt of court charges.

    Jolovan Wham

     

    Has there been any disagreement around whether elections should be held, when, or how?

    Yes. Opposition parties were largely against it as the COVID-19 pandemic had not abated and holding the elections might pose a public health threat. They were also concerned that physical rallies and door-to-door visits would be disallowed, which would hinder their campaign efforts.

    And indeed, it was more difficult to connect face to face with voters when a one-metre distance had to be maintained during walkabouts and door-to-door visits. Everyone had to give their speeches and connect with voters online.

    Some changes were introduced so elections would proceed in the context of the pandemic. Voting time was extended by two hours to take the longer queues caused by social distancing into consideration. But the possibility of online voting was not discussed. And older people and those who were frail may have not participated for fear of getting infected with COVID-19.

    What was the state of civic freedoms ahead of the elections?

    The ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) control of all public institutions is a major civic freedom issue. It means it gets to shape the political discourse according to its agenda and set the rules of the game to its advantage. For example, the elections department, which draws electoral boundaries, reports to the prime minister himself. Most civil society groups are afraid of engaging in the elections in a meaningful way for fear of being seen as ‘partisan’. If a civil society association is associated with an opposition party, it may lose funding, support and patronage for its work.

    A recent report by the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights documented structural flaws that prevented the election from being fair, including the prime minister’s broad powers over the entire electoral process without any effective oversight. The environment in which the Singaporean people were able to exercise their right to participate in public life was heavily restricted. Key opposition candidates had been targeted with lawsuits by members of the PAP, and voters in opposition-led constituencies fear reprisals for not voting for the PAP. Fundamental freedoms, which are intrinsically linked to free elections, are limited as the government controls the media and uses restrictive laws against dissenting and critical voices.

    How did this affect the chances of the opposition?

    Opposition candidates and parties had to rely solely on social media to get their message out, because of unfavourable coverage by state media. They also had difficulty accessing voters because of the PAP’s monopoly, manipulation and control of national grassroots groups, unions and organisations, on top of the difficulties involved in holding physical rallies in the context of the pandemic.

    The elections were held on 10 July. The PAP secured 83 parliamentary seats but faced a setback as the opposition made minor but historic gains. The Workers’ party, the only opposition party in parliament, increased its seats from six to 10 – the biggest result for the opposition since independence. The PAP popular vote dipped to 61 per cent.

    What were the main issues the campaign revolved around?

    For the PAP, the campaign revolved around smearing opposition candidates, accusing them of peddling falsehoods and of having nefarious agendas and engaging in character assassination. Scaremongering tactics were also used: the electorate were told that only the PAP could get Singaporeans out of the COVID-19 pandemic and that having more opposition members in parliament would thwart these efforts.

    Opposition parties, on the other hand, focused on telling the electorate that they were in danger of being wiped out of parliament as they held fewer than 10 elected seats out of almost 90. Issues such as the high cost of living and immigration were other key issues raised by the opposition.

    Civic space in Singapore is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Six countries added to watchlist of countries where civic freedoms are under serious threat

    • Bangladesh, Maldives, Cameroon, DRC, Guatemala, Nicaragua join global watchlist
    • Escalating rights violations include killings, attacks on protesters, media, opposition
    • Neighbours, international community must pressure governments to end repression

    Six countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen an escalation in serious threats to fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months.

    The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Bangladesh,  Maldives, CameroonDemocratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Activists and civil society organisations in these countries are currently experiencing a severe infringement of civic freedoms, as protected by international law.

    Violations include brutal attacks by police on peaceful protests in Nicaragua and Bangladesh; the murder of human rights defenders in Guatemala; the killing of protesters and a brutal state campaign against activists and the political opposition in the DRC; and the prosecution of human rights defenders and journalists on fabricated charges in Cameroon, amidst an escalating civil conflict.

    “It is deeply concerning to see escalated threats to basic rights in these countries,” said Cathal Gilbert, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead.

    “It is crucial that these six governments wake up to their failure to respect international law and take swift action to respect their citizens’ most basic freedoms in a democratic society,” Gilbert said.

    “We also call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to do put pressure on these countries to end the repression.”

    Over the past year, authorities in Bangladesh have used repressive laws to target and harass journalists and human rights defenders, restrict freedom of assembly and carry out the enforced disappearances of opposition supporters. The human rights situation has deteriorated further ahead of national elections scheduled for late 2018. Members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling party Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), have attacked student activists, academics and journalists with impunity.

    In Nicaragua, at least 300 people have been killed since protests began in April 2018, with hundreds more kidnapped or missing. The demonstrations were initially sparked by regressive changes to the social security system but grew to include calls for President Daniel Ortega to resign in the wake of his brutal repression of peaceful protests. While large-scale marches have subsided in recent days, some continue amid a tense political situation as the Ortega government continues to silence critics despite agreements struck with international bodies, and an undertaking to allow an IACHR investigation into the violence. Attacks on protestors are perpetrated both by state forces and armed groups aligned with the government.

    This year, between January and July alone, at least 18 human rights defenders (HRDs) were killed in Guatemala. There were also two assassination attempts and 135 other attacks, with 32 of those aimed at women HRDs. In early August, United Nations Special Rapporteurs issued a statement raising the alarm at the spike in killings in 2018. Reports from Guatemala indicate that the space for civil society has worsened due to land disputes and actions by corporate interests, the source of targeted violence against specific groups of activists.

    Despite the announcement that Congolese president Joseph Kabila will not run for a third term, tensions are still high in the DRC, ahead of scheduled elections in December.  In recent months, protestors, youth movements, human rights defenders, journalists and the political opposition have all faced widespread state repression, including arrests. In June this year, CSOs and UN Special Rapporteurs expressed serious concerns about a planned new law that would give authorities power to dissolve non-governmental organisations (NGOs) over public order or national security concerns.

    In Maldives, a widespread crackdown on dissent began in February 2018 when a court ordered the release of opposition leaders. This decision led to the arbitrary arrest of judges, scores of opposition politicians and activists as well as the use of unnecessary force by police to disperse peaceful demonstrations. There are also documented cases of people being ill-treated in detention. With elections due on 23rd September 2018, civic space is likely to become increasingly contested. Already in May 2018, the Electoral Commission moved to bar four opposition leaders from running in the upcoming presidential elections.

    In Cameroon, an escalating conflict in the country’s Anglophone regions between armed separatists and the government has sparked a mounting humanitarian crisis. It began as protests in 2016, resulting in state repression of protests and the arrest and prosecution of protest leaders. The conflict intensified in recent months with killings and human rights violations committed by both sides. At least 100 civilians, 43 security officers and an unknown number of armed separatists have reportedly been killed, according to an International Crisis Group report. NGOs and human rights defenders have also been targeted.

    In the coming weeks, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments. CIVICUS calls upon these governments to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing crackdowns and ensure that perpetrators are held to account.

    ENDS.

    For more information, please contact:

    Cathal Gilbert

    Grant Clark

     

  • SLOVENIA: ‘The government has taken advantage of the pandemic to restrict protest’

    CIVICUS speaks about the recent right-wing shift in Slovenia with Brankica Petković, a researcher and project manager at the Peace Institute in Ljubljana. Founded in 1991, the Peace Institute-Institute for Contemporary Social and Political Studies is an independent, non-profit research institution that uses research and advocacy to promote the principles and practices of an open society, critical thought, equality, responsibility, solidarity, human rights and the rule of law. It works in partnership with other organisations and citizens at the local, regional and international levels.

     

  • SOUTH KOREA: ‘North Korean defectors and activists face increasing pressure to stay silent’

    Ethan Hee Seok ShinCIVICUS speaks with Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, a legal analyst with the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), a Seoul-based civil society organisation (CSO) founded by human rights advocates and researchers from five countries. Founded in 2014, it is the first Korea-based CSO focused on transitional justice mechanisms in the world’s most repressive regimes, including North Korea. TJWG aims to develop practical methods for addressing massive human rights violations and advocating justice for victims in pre and post-transition societies. Ethan works on TJWG’s Central Repository project, which uses a secure platform to document and publicise cases of enforced disappearances in North Korea. He uses legislative and legal action to raise awareness about North Korean human rights issues.

     

    Can you tell us about the work being done by South Korean civil society groups about the human rights situation in North Korea?

    There is a rather broad range of CSOs working on North Korean human rights issues. TJWG has been working to prepare the ground for transitional justice in North Korea, in line with its core mission of human rights documentation.

    TJWG’s flagship project has resulted in a series of reports mapping public executions in North Korea, based on interviews with escapees living in South Korea. We record the geospatial information of killing sites, burial sites and record storage places, including courts and security service facilities, by asking our interviewees to spot the locations on Google Earth. The report’s first edition was released in July 2017 and was based on 375 interviews, and its second edition was launched in June 2019 after conducting 610 interviews.

    We are also currently in the process of creating an online database of abductions and enforced disappearances in and by North Korea, called FOOTPRINTS. This uses Uwazi, a free, open-source solution for organising, analysing and publishing documents, developed by HURIDOCS, a CSO. When launched to the public, FOOTPRINTS will provide an easily accessible and searchable platform to track individuals taken and lost in North Korea.

    Other than documentation and reporting work, we have been active in international and domestic advocacy. Jointly with other human rights CSOs, TJWG drafted and submitted an open letter urging the European Union to strengthen the language and recommendations in the annual human rights resolutions adopted by the United Nations’ (UN) General Assembly and Human Rights Council on North Korea. We have also made case submissions to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and other UN human rights experts.

    In July 2020, the South Korean government revoked the registration of two CSOs and issued a notice of administrative review and inspections of ‘defector-run’ groups working on human rights in North Korea. Why are these groups being targeted?

    The direct catalyst was the June 2020 provocations by North Korea. On 4 June, Kim Yo-Jong, sister of supreme leader Kim Jong-Un and the first vice department director of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee, criticised the ‘anti-DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] leaflets’ flown to North Korea by ‘North Korean escapees’ and threatened the cessation of Mount Kumgang tourism, the complete demolition of the Kaesong industrial region, the closure of the inter-Korean liaison office, or the termination of the 9/19 military agreement (the 2018 agreement to create demilitarised buffer zones) unless the South Korean authorities took ‘due measures’.

    Just four hours after Kim Yo-Jong’s early morning bombshell, the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced that it would prepare legislation banning the distribution of leaflets to North Korea. This was a complete reversal of the government’s longstanding position, which consistently avoided such legislation for fear of infringing upon the freedom of expression.

    On 10 June 2020, the MOU announced that it would file criminal charges against Park Sang-Hak and Park Jung-Oh, two defectors from North Korea, for violating article 13 of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, which requires prior approval of any inter-Korean exchange of goods, and would revoke the incorporation of their organisations, Fighters For Free North Korea (FFNK) and KuenSaem, for sending leaflets in air balloons and rice-filled PET bottles on sea currents to North Korea, as they did on 31 May 2020.

    While the North Korean government eventually toned down its rhetoric, the South Korean government began to take actions against North Korean human rights and escapee groups, viewed as a hindrance to inter-Korean peace.

    On 29 June 2020 the MOU held a hearing and on 17 July it announced the revocation of the legal incorporation of FFNK and KuenSaem for contravening incorporation conditions by grossly impeding the government’s reunification policy, dispersing leaflets and items to North Korea beyond the stated goals of their incorporation and fomenting tension in the Korean peninsula under article 38 of the Civil Code, a relic from the authoritarian era. 

    The MOU also launched ‘business inspections’ of other North Korean human rights and escapee settlement support groups among the over 400 associations incorporated by MOU’s permission, possibly with a view to revoking their incorporation. On 15 July 2020, the Association of North Korean Defectors received a notice from the MOU that it would be inspected for the first time since its incorporation in 2010. The following day, MOU authorities informed journalists that they would first conduct business inspections on 25 incorporated North Korean human rights and escapee settlement support groups, 13 of them headed by North Korean defectors, with more to be inspected in the future. While acknowledging that the leaflet issue triggered the inspections, the MOU added that the business inspections would not be limited to those involved in the leaflet campaign.

    How many groups have been reviewed or inspected after the announcements were made?

    Because of the international and domestic uproar caused by the obviously discriminatory nature of the inspections targeting North Korean human rights and escapee groups, the MOU has somewhat toned down its approach, and has belatedly begun to argue that it is focusing on all CSOs registered under the MOU.

    On 6 October 2020, the MOU told reporters that it had decided to inspect 109 out of 433 CSOs for failing to submit annual reports or for submitting insufficient documentation. According to the information provided, 13 of the 109 groups to be inspected are headed by North Korean escapees; 22 (16 working on North Korean human rights and escapee settlement, five working in the social and cultural fields and one working in the field of unification policy) have already been inspected and none has revealed any serious grounds for revocation of registration; and the MOU intends to complete the inspection for the remaining 87 CSOs by the end of 2020.

    In any case, the government appears to have already succeeded in its goal of sending a clear signal to North Korea that it is ready to accommodate its demands in return for closer ties, even if it means sacrificing some fundamental principles of liberal democracy. The government has also sent a clear signal to North Korean human rights and escapee groups with the intended chilling effect.

    How has civil society responded to these moves by the government?

    Civil society in South Korea is unfortunately as polarised as the country’s politics. The ruling progressives view the conservatives as illegitimate heirs to the collaborators of Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945, and post-independence authoritarian rule up to 1987. The previous progressive president, Roh Moo-Hyun, who served from 2003 to 2008, killed himself in 2009 during a corruption probe, widely seen as politically motivated, under his conservative successor. The incumbent Moon Jae-In was elected president in 2017, riding a wave of public disgust at his right-wing predecessor’s impeachment for corruption and abuse of power.

    Most CSOs are dominated by progressives who are politically aligned with the current Moon government. The progressives are relatively supportive of the human rights agenda but are generally silent when it comes to North Korean human rights because of their attachment to inter-Korean rapprochement. The same people who talk loudly about Japanese ‘comfort women’ – women forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan before and during the Second World War – or authoritarian-era outrages readily gloss over present North Korean atrocities in the name of national reconciliation.

    Most North Korean human rights groups are formed around North Korean escapees and the Christian churches of the political right that passionately characterise leftists as North Korean stooges. Many are also generally hostile to contemporary human rights issues such as LGBTQI+ rights, which is rather ironic as Australian judge Michael Kirby, the principal author of the 2014 UN report that authoritatively condemned the grave human rights violations in North Korea as crimes against humanity, is gay.

    The largely progressive mainstream CSOs have not been on the receiving end of persecution by the government led by President Moon; on the contrary, prominent civil society figures have even been appointed or elected to various offices or given generous grants. Some do privately express their dismay and concern at the government’s illiberal tendencies, but few are ready to publicly raise the issue because of the deep political polarisation.

    Is the space for civil society – structured by the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression – becoming more restrictive in South Korea under the current administration?

    The Moon government has displayed worryingly illiberal tendencies in its handling of groups that it views as standing in its way, such as North Korean human rights and escapee groups, who have faced increasing pressure to stay silent and cease their advocacy. 

    President Moon has reopened a dialogue with the North Korean government to establish peaceful relations, neutralise the North’s nuclear threat and pave the way for family reunification, along with other estimable goals.

    However, along with US President Donald Trump, President Moon has employed a diplomatic strategy that downplays human rights concerns. Notably, neither the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration between North and South Korea nor the Joint Statement issued after the 2018 Trump-Kim summit in Singapore make any mention of the North’s egregious human rights abuses.

    In the weeks before President Moon met North Korean leader Kim in Panmunjom, there were reports that North Korean defector-activists were being prevented from carrying out their activism. In October 2018, South Korea acquiesced to North Korea’s demand to exclude a defector journalist from covering a meeting in North Korea. On 7 July 2019, there was an extraordinary rendition of two defectors, fishers who were allegedly fugitive murderers, to North Korea five days after their arrival without any semblance of due process.

    The Moon government has resorted to illiberal tactics on other perceived opponents as well. A man who put up a poster mocking President Moon as ‘Xi Jinping’s loyal dog’ (referring to the Chinese president) at the campus of Dankook University on 24 November 2019 was prosecuted and fined by court on 23 June 2020 for ‘intruding in a building’ under article 319 (1) of the Penal Code, even though the university authorities made clear that they did not wish to press charges against him for exercising his freedom of expression. Many criticised the criminal prosecution and conviction as a throwback to the old military days.

    The government has also moved to exercise ever more control over state prosecutors. The Minister of Justice, Choo Mi-ae, has attacked prosecutors who dared to investigate charges of corruption and abuse of power against the government, claiming a conspiracy to undermine President Moon.

    Another worrying trend is the populist tactic by ruling party politicians, notably lawmaker Lee Jae-jung, of using the internet to whip up supporters to engage in cyberbullying against reporters.

    What can the international community do to support the groups being targeted?

    In April 2020 the ruling party won the parliamentary elections by a landslide, taking 180 of 300 seats, thanks to its relative success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic. The opposition is in disarray. All this has emboldened rather than humbled the government, and its illiberal tendencies are likely to continue. Due to the severe political polarisation, ruling party politicians and their supporters are not likely to pay much heed to domestic criticism.

    The voice of the international community will therefore be crucial. It is much more difficult for the government to counter concerns raised by international CSOs as politically motivated attacks. A joint statement or an open letter spearheaded by CIVICUS would be helpful in forcefully delivering the message that human rights in North Korea are of genuine concern for the international community.

    Furthermore, South Korea will soon be submitting its fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee in accordance with the list of issues prior to reporting (LOIPR). Because North Korea-related issues and concerns are not included in the LOIPR, it would be extremely helpful if international CSOs joined forces to include them in the oral discussion with the members of the Human Rights Committee and in their concluding observations.

    In the shorter run, country visits to South Korea by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders would be excellent opportunities to internationalise the issue and put pressure on our government.

    Even progressives may support a reform of the outdated law on CSO registration, for instance, as a matter of self-interest, if not of principle, in case of change of government.

    Civic space inSouth Korea is rated ‘narrowedby the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Transitional Justice Working Group through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@TJWGSeoul on Twitter.

     

  • SPAIN: ‘Democratic rules are being used to promote an anti-rights ideology’

    CIVICUS speaks about the recent election in Spain with Núria Valls, president of the Ibero-American League of Civil Society Organisations (Liga Iberoamericana), a platform that brings together 29 civil society organisations from 17 Ibero-American countries, specialising in human, social and community development. Legally incorporated in Spain, the Ibero-American League has worked on childhood, youth, education and labour issues from a human rights perspective for 20 years, by providing advice to governments, monitoring and evaluating programmes and building networks and doing public policy advocacy at the local, domestic and international levels.

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    What were the causes of the political instability that required Spain to hold two elections in 2019?

    The widespread rejection of the political system that was established following the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1970s led to a significant deterioration of the two traditional parties: the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP). These political parties were very used to bipartisanship and ruling with the support of large majorities. When other parties appeared on stage, pacts and coalitions became necessary, which until then had only been a feature of local politics. It became necessary to include more minority parties and nationalist parties from the country’s periphery, which does not always pay electorally.

    In addition, the political conflict in Catalonia had radicalised the positions of parties present at the state level, which entered into a sort of competition to show who was the most Spanish. Even leftist parties do not dare to speak in recognition of Spain’s national plurality because the media, and particularly those from the capital, Madrid, criticise them aggressively.

    In the first elections of 2019, held in May, the PSOE felt uncomfortable when negotiating with the leftist and independent parties that had supported the motion of censure leading to the replacement of the conservative government led by the PP. On top of this, the personal ambitions of the leaders of both the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, the left-wing coalition formed in 2016 by the Podemos political movement and several other political forces, made a pact impossible at that time.

    The PSOE misread the polls and believed that a second election would give them the majority, and therefore the possibility of governing alone. But ahead of the November elections, people were angry because, as they saw it, due to their leaders’ personal egos parties had not done their job, and instead had made us waste time and money. All of this further deepened dissatisfaction with politics.

    Would you say that the extreme right party Vox benefited from this?

    Vox was one of the parties that benefited the most from the second election. It doubled its number of votes and became the third most represented party, with 52 seats, right behind the two major parties.

    Traditionally in Spain it was considered that there was no extreme right because the PP encompassed the entire right wing. But Vox emerged with great force and with a Francoist, aggressive anti-human rights discourse, presenting itself as the guarantor of the unity of Spain against separatism. In fact, the way the situation in Catalonia has been handled has been a breeding ground for the acceptance of increasingly right-wing discourse, justified in the need to preserve the unity of Spain.

    Another electoral result worth mentioning is that of Ciudadanos, a seemingly liberal party, which not long ago thought it would soon be in government, but which practically disappeared given its meagre results. Ciudadanos had focused its discourse on territorial conflict and on the unity of Spain. Voters who prioritised this issue preferred Vox, which has a more radical stance.

    Despite the good results obtained by Vox, however, it was the left that won the elections and this time they worked fast. In just 24 hours a pact between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos was forged, which had previously been impossible to achieve. Citizens found it hard to understand why what a few months ago had been impossible was now possible. But what is important is that the formation of a government was prioritised against the feeling of instability and paralysis that has prevailed in recent years. Faced with this broad pact among leftist parties, the right wing reacted with a very aggressive discourse, strongly rooted in the Francoist tradition.

    Finally, due to the abstention of Catalan pro-independence parties, it was possible to form a government. Governing will not be easy, but it promises to be a very interesting experience, which offers the possibility of creating change. It will be a very broad government, with 22 ministerial portfolios, notably characterised by gender parity.

    How would you characterise Vox as a political force and ideological trend?

    Vox is a far-right party that does not hide its xenophobic anti-human rights discourse. It prioritises two major issues: the unity and centralisation of Spain, and the elimination of gender policies.

    This is a worrying phenomenon that is not only happening in Spain. Extreme right parties arise in times of citizen frustration in the face of economic and social inequalities in a globalised world. There is an international movement – which spans Brazil, France, Italy, Norway, the USA and many other countries – that focuses on stigmatising and criminalising migration and so-called ‘gender ideology’. The support for these speeches by some religious congregations should also be analysed.

    These parties use democracy’s rules to promote an anti-human rights ideology. It is paradoxical that democracy, which was born under the values ​​of participation and respect for rights, is currently being used to strengthen and foster an ideology that is totally opposed to those values.

    How did this right turn take place just a few years after so many people had taken part in protests for economic and social justice?

    An element of this turn has to do with the anger that a section of the population feels toward politics. Corruption of political parties has had a great impact on society, as people think that politicians are in politics only to enrich themselves. There is no idea of politics in the broader sense as linked to the common good.

    In particular, there is a bloc of young people who see a very difficult future for themselves. They have very low expectations and view a vote for Vox is an anti-system choice. This is the vote of those who think that migration will deprive them of jobs and state resources, and that gender policies are an exaggeration. Vox is very apt at using social media with direct messages often based on falsehoods but that are reaching the population.

    The territorial conflict between Spain and Catalonia has also functioned as a catalyst for this anger. The message of ‘we’ll go after them (‘A por ellos’) used to despatch police units from the rest of Spain towards Catalonia to try to prevent the referendum on 1 October 2017, later reinforced by a message from the King, aroused an anti-Catalan sentiment. The right bloc, and especially Vox, appropriated the defence of the monarchy against republican leftist parties.

    How is this process being experienced by civil society? Do you think that the space for civil society is being degraded in Spain?

    Organised civil society was caught a little off guard. On the one hand, we did not believe that electoral support for Vox would be so strong, and on the other hand, we had a debate about whether we should respond to them, and therefore give them more media coverage, or whether it was best to ignore them. The second option prevailed, among political parties as well. And the strategy of ignoring them contributed to the increase in votes for Vox. There was nobody left to respond to their expressions bluntly and with clear arguments.

    Now civil society debate revolves around the need to defend human rights clearly and forcefully and respond to any expression that hurts or stigmatises any population group.

    In the territories where it is governing together with the PP and Ciudadanos, such as Andalusia, Madrid and Murcia, one of Vox's first actions has been to press for the end of aid to organisations working with women or vulnerable groups.

    We are experiencing a risk of regression in freedoms and therefore it is necessary for us to work in a more united way than ever as civil society. A clear communication strategy must be developed to reach all people. Often we in civil society remain locked in our own spheres and find it hard to take our message beyond our circles.

    Another strategy used by the right wing, and especially by Vox and the PP, is to use the justice system to settle political disagreements. Much of the judiciary in Spain is still very ideological, since many conservative judges remain as heirs of the Franco regime. As a result, sentences have abounded against the freedom of expression on social media, including censorship of songs. And many people have also been convicted for protesting publicly, especially in Catalonia.

    How has the situation in Catalonia evolved since the 2017 referendum?

    The referendum of 1 October 2017 was an act of empowerment by a section of the Catalan population that participated very actively, with a collective sentiment of civil disobedience, to achieve a better future against a state that did all it could to prevent it from happening. The violent state repression unleashed during the referendum and afterwards increased the collective feeling of a big section of the population in favour of independence, and especially in favour of the right to decide through elections.

    After the referendum, repression against Catalan pro-independence groups increased, and the state put all its police and judicial machinery in motion. In addition, it launched article 155 of the Constitution, which provides the state with a coercive mechanism to bind the autonomous communities that breach constitutional or legal obligations or seriously undermine Spain’s ‘general interest’. Article 155 suspended the autonomy of Catalonia from 27 October 2017 until 2 June 2018, when new regional elections were held. It amounted to almost a year of political, financial and administrative paralysis in Catalonia.

    Previously, on 16 October 2017, the leaders of the two most representative Catalan pro-independence groups, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez, had been imprisoned for mediating in a spontaneous and peaceful demonstration in front of a building of the Generalitat, the Catalan government, where the police were conducting a search. They were imprisoned preventively, with no possibility of release before their trial.

    Following these arrests, judicial repression against the government of Catalonia increased, culminating in the detention of the vice president and five government ministers plus the president of the parliament of Catalonia, all of whom were placed in pre-trial detention. For his part, the president of the Generalitat went into exile in Belgium along with four more ministers, and two other politicians went into exile in Switzerland. The government of Spain made statements affirming that it had decapitated the pro-independence movement.

    This entire judicial and repressive process further complicated the political situation in Catalonia. The ruling issued on 14 October 2019, which sentenced independence leaders to prison terms of between nine and 13 years, amounting to a total of 100 years, caused new street protests to break out.

    Unlike all previous pro-independence demonstrations since 2012, the latest protests caused many riots and faced police repression. In addition, young people were the protagonists and adopted a more radical attitude towards repression. In that context, the anonymous Democratic Tsunami movement emerged. Inspired by the Hong Kong protests, this movement uses social media to call for large peaceful mobilisations in various locations, such as the border or the airport. The police have tried to discover who is behind this movement, but it really is just an instance of collective empowerment by pro-independence civil society.

    At present, following the latest Spanish elections in which the PSOE and Unidas Podemos required the abstention of the pro-independence party Republican Left of Catalonia to be able to form a government, the picture has changed. The government has pledged to initiate a dialogue with the government of Catalonia and to bring any agreements reached through dialogue to a citizen vote. This will not be easy because right-wing parties, using any judicial remedy at their disposal, are trying to boycott the process. An effort must be made to find a solution for the situation of pro-independence prisoners that facilitates a peaceful and political way out and allows a process of real dialogue to begin.

    Civic space in Spain is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with La Liga Iberoamericana through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@LigaIberoamOSC on Twitter.

     

     

  • Squeezing civil society hurts India’s economy and democracy

    By Mandeep Tiwana

    India played a key moral role in international affairs during the anti-colonial struggles and as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war. What happened then?

    Read on: Open Democracy

     

     

  • Sri Lanka government must respect the rule of law and protect civic space

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and The Innovation for Change South Asia Hub are extremely concerned about the political crisis in Sri Lanka and its impact on the rule of law and civic space in the country.

    We are gravely concerned that President Maithripala Sirisena has undermined the rule of law by unconstitutionally removing the sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with former President and current Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa overnight. Rajapaksa’s administration was implicated in serious violations during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war and the suppression of freedoms of the media, expression, and association.

    This was followed by a decision to undemocratically suspend Parliament denying Members of Parliament, who exercise sovereignty on the peoples’ behalf, the ability to assemble at this crucial time. We demand that the Parliament be reconvened immediately allowing representatives of the people to decide the way forward and to prevent the nation from plunging into a state of political instability and impunity.

    Our organisations are also alarmed by reports of the forcible take-over of state media institutions and intimidation of journalists disrupting the free flow of information to the public. We condemn such actions and call on the authorities to ensure that press freedom, a crucial component of a democracy is respected.

    We are also concerned that these political developments may put the civic freedom of Sri Lankans at risk. Citizens must be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

    We hope that Sri Lanka’s democratic gains of the past several years will not be lost and we stand in solidarity with civil society and human rights defenders from Sri Lanka at this difficult time.

    Contact:

    Omid Salman (I4C South Asia Communications Specialist):

    Josef Benedict (CIVICUS Research officer):

     

  • SRI LANKA: ‘Media control gave the government a definite advantage’

    CIVICUS speaks to Sandun Thudugala, Head of Programmes at the Law and Society Trust (LST), about the legislative elections held in Sri Lanka on 5 August 2020, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. LST is a legal research and advocacy organisation founded in 1982 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with the goal of promoting legal reforms to improve access to justice, the justiciability of rights and public accountability.

    Ahead of the August 2020 elections, the CIVICUS Monitordocumented that human rights lawyers and journalists in Sri Lanka faced arrests, threats and harassment. Areport by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, published in May 2020, also showed that civil society faced challenges in registering and operating along with various barriers to protest.

    Sandun Thudugala

    What was the situation for civic freedoms and civil society ahead of the elections?

    As in many other countries, the situation of civic freedoms and the space for civil society has always been in a vulnerable situation in Sri Lanka. Even under the previous government, which was supposed to be more supportive towards civil society and the human rights agenda, efforts to introduce new draconian laws to control civil society and the undermining of basic freedoms in the name of counterterrorism continued.

    The situation got worse with the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the new president in November 2019. His election campaign, which was built on the ideas of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy, disciplined society and enhanced national security, was supported by an overwhelming majority, especially from the Sinhala Buddhist community. This result was seen as a mandate given to the government to undermine basic freedoms and civic space in the name of national security and development.

    There have been signs of an increased militarisation of every aspect of society and the undermining of democratic institutions, such as the appointment of members of Presidential Task Forces – which are accountable only to the president – to handle key governance functions. There has also been a clear message of unwillingness to cooperate with the state’s international obligations, including by complying with UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1, which the previous government had co-sponsored and which was aimed at promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka after the 1983-2009 internal conflict, as well as with local human rights mechanisms.

    There have been increased surveillance of civil society activities and arrests of social media activists. This has clearly reflected a trend of undermining civic freedoms and civic space before the elections. The situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The need to deal with the virus has been used as an excuse to increase militarisation and the concentration of power in the hands of the president.

    What were the main issues the campaign revolved around?

    The government led by newly elected President Rajapaksa, of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP), was seeking a two-thirds majority in parliament to be able to amend the current constitution and give the president additional powers. That’s been the major election campaign goal of the SLPP. The need to have a strong government to protect the aspirations of the Sinhala Buddhist majority, defend national sovereignty and foster economic development were therefore among their major campaign themes. The popularity the president gained after winning the presidential election was used to mobilise voters to support the SLPP.

    The main opposition parties were divided, and their internal conflict was more prominent in the election campaign than their actual election messages. One of their major promises was to provide economic assistance for poor people who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

    Issues such as the need to strengthen democratic governance systems, justice for war victims, longer-term solutions to ethnic issues or the root causes of rural poverty, indebtedness and inequality were not highlighted during the election campaign by any of the major parties

    Was there any debate around whether the election should be held during the pandemic? 

    The government wanted to conduct the election as soon as possible. It was willing to hold the election in April 2020, as planned, even at the height of the pandemic. Almost all opposition parties were against holding the election in April. The Election Commission subsequently decided to postpone it to August 2020 due to the health risks it might entail. By August, the situation had got considerably better and there was no major opposition to conducting the elections, which took place on 5 August.

    As far as I know, online voting was not considered as an option for this election. I do not think that Sri Lanka has the infrastructure and capacity to adopt such an option at this moment. More than 70 per cent of eligible voters cast votes and apart from the people who are still in quarantine centres, people experienced no major barriers in casting their votes. There were however incidents of some private factories denying leave for their employees to vote.

    Was it possible to have a normal campaign in the context of the pandemic?

    Health guidelines were issued by the Election Commission, which imposed significant controls on election campaigning. No major rallies or meetings were allowed, but the government and the main opposition parties violated these health guidelines by convening public rallies and other meetings openly, without any repercussions. It was clear that the parties with power had a clear advantage in overstepping certain rules. Additionally, candidates from major political parties, who had more money to use for electronic and social media campaigns, had a definite advantage over the others.

    Due to its control over state media and the support it received from most private media, both electronic and print, the government had a definite advantage over the opposition during the election campaign. The smaller opposition political parties were at the most disadvantageous position, as they did not get any significant airtime or publicity in mainstream media.

    This surely impacted on the election results, in which the SLPP, led by President Rajapaksa and his brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, won 145 seats in the 225-member parliament. The opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya party, which was established in early 2020 as a breakaway from the right-wing United National Party, won 54 seats. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi party, which represents the Tamil ethnic minority, won 10 seats, and 16 other seats were split among 12 smaller parties. As a result, on 9 August, Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the fourth time.

    Was civil society able to engage in the election in a meaningful way? 

    Apart from being engaged in election monitoring processes, the engagement of independent civil society in the election was minimal. This is a drastic change when compared to the 2015 election, in which civil society played a key role in promoting a good governance and reconciliation agenda within the election campaign. Divisions within the opposition and the COVID-19 context made it difficult for civil society organisations to engage effectively in the process. Some organisations tried to create a discourse on the importance of protecting the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which curbed presidential powers while strengthening the role of parliament and independent institutions and accountability processes, but didn’t get any significant spaces within the media or any other public domains to discuss these issues.

    Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Law and Society Trust through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@lstlanka and@SandunThudugala on Twitter.

     

  • Statement at the UN Human Rights Council: Global trends on civic space

    37th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Oral statement

    Across the globe, CIVICUS has observed a pattern of judicial persecution, smear campaigns, threats, intimidation, physical assaults and killings targeting human rights defenders.

    We remain deeply concerned by the relentless and unwarranted restrictions on fundamental freedoms and attacks on civil society leaders, members of unions and members of the political opposition that have expressed criticism of government policies and practices.

    These attacks are particularly prevalent before, during and after politically charged periods like elections as recently observed in Gabon, where the movements of members of the political opposition and threats to human rights defenders have continued after the violence that followed the 2016 elections. Sadly, this is a trend we observe in many countries.

    We are alarmed by the growing tendency of states to use restrictive legislation and policies to pre-empt peaceful protests by citizens and civil society under the pretext of national security.

    Many states deploy armed security forces who use violence and live ammunition to disperse demonstrations. Protesters are killed and some are injured. As observed in Benin, these actions are often followed by arrests and detention of protesters, some of whom have reported being tortured.

    We call on states to uphold and protect the rights of citizens to freely assemble and express themselves in line with national and international human rights standards.

     

  • Statement to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights: Countries on the civic space watchlist

    37th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Oral statement at Interactive Dialogue with UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

    CIVICUS commends the High Commissioner for his report, and for his commitment to standing alongside victims of the world's most egregious human rights violations by continuously bringing attention of their plight to this Council.

    Mr President, CIVICUS shares the High Commissioner's grave concern over growing restrictions on civic space in Cambodia, Cameroon, Poland, Tanzania and Honduras. We note that these five countries have been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List, which draws attention to countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.

    In Cameroon, reports of renewed violence against protesters have emerged as the authorities have shut down internet access in Anglophone regions of the country. The government has also taken sharp measures to control and limit freedom of expression by suspending journalists’ activities and radio and television stations’ operations.

    In the run-up to Cambodia’s 2018 general elections, the government has attempted to silence the opposition and suppress civic space, shutting down independent media and arresting activists. Repression of dissenting voices makes it highly unlikely that elections will take place in a transparent and democratic manner.

    Poland’s current trajectory has caused grave concern as the government seeks to restrict civil and political freedoms and control the judiciary and civil society organisations. Worringly, a new body closely related to the office of the president has been created to control the flow of funding to civil society organisations, which could result in only pro-government groups being funded.

    Peaceful protests following Honduras´ recent elections, which were criticised by the opposition and international observers, were met by security forces using excessive force. Several protesters were killed and many others injured and arbitrarily detained.

    Tanzania has remained on the Monitor Watch List and CIVICUS echoes the High Commissioner’s concern over the authorities’ unrelenting attacks on the media, civil society and the LGBTI community in particular.

    Mr President, restrictions on civic space are often a bellwether for further violations of human rights and allow states to act with impunity. CIVICUS asks the High Commissioner how his office intends to support local civil society fighting for human rights on the ground to respond to this global crackdown.

     

  • Strict legal restrictions on foreign funding hit India’s NGOs

    CIVICUS interviews Mathew Jacob on the restrictions on freedom of association and attacks on civil society in India including laws on foreign funding. Jacob is the National Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA). HRDA is a national platform of human rights defenders for human rights defenders. Mathew is also a PhD scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. 

     

  • Tanzania, Kenya, Angola Join Watch List of Countries of Concern

    Attacks by the authorities on protesters, critics, NGOs and the media in Angola, Kenya and Tanzania have led global civil alliance, CIVICUS, to add the nations to its Watch List of countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.

    The updated Watch List, which is regularly reviewed in response to current events, was released today.

     

  • TANZANIA: ‘What is needed is a new constitution reflecting the will of the people’

    CIVICUS speaks about the prospects for democratic change under a new president in Tanzania with Maria Sarungi Tsehai, a communications expert and founder of Change Tanzania. Change Tanzania is a social movement that began on social media as an informal group of people focused on bringing positive, sustainable change to Tanzania.

    Maria Sarungi Tsehai

    What is the current state of civic space – the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression – in Tanzania?

    Civic space continues to be restricted, as the legal framework has not changed. Amendments have been proposed to the 2020 Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, which have led to the severe restriction of online freedom of expression and digital media freedoms. However, these amendments are limited good news, as critical issues such as the criminalisation of what is perceived as ‘fake news’ or misinformation remain and the authorities have retained ultimate arbitrary power to take action and have so-called ‘prohibited content’ removed within two hours. The list of prohibited content, which is open to interpretation and has been used to restrict media freedom and the freedom of expression in the past, remains.

    Regarding the freedom of peaceful assembly, restrictions have become harsher, to the extent that internal political party meetings are now banned and have been disrupted by riot-geared police, as witnessed recently in the case of a number of meetings and convenings held by the main opposition party, the Party for Democracy and Progress – better known as CHADEMA for its acronym in Swahili – as well as in the case of the National Convention for Construction and Reform, another opposition party, whose internal council meeting was broken up by the police on 28 August 2021.

    Those who continued to gather in defiance have been illegally detained and kept incommunicado. In some cases, this has involved dozens of people, while recently in Mwanza, in northern Tanzania, it has affected close to 100 CHADEMA supporters. The chairman of CHADEMA, Freeman Mbowe, was recently abducted by masked security forces and held incommunicado for days before being charged with terrorism – all because he defied police calls and flew to Mwanza to be part of a symposium on constitutional reforms.

    President Samia Suluhu Hassan has accused citizens leading movements for constitutional reform of fostering foreign interests and seeking to destabilise the country for personal gain, therefore designating their actions as ‘sedition’.

    When CHADEMA supporters assembled outside the court building the day Freeman Mbowe was due to appear in court, they received rough treatment from the police and were picked off the streets and detained just for standing silently with banners and wearing opposition t-shirts. Many women have been detained in such a way and denied their basic rights to food, water and sanitary pads while in illegal detention. One female CHADEMA leader, Neema Mwakipesile, was detained for over 14 days, and was initially denied any access to a lawyer or contact with family members.

    The government has also frequently instrumentalised the COVID-19 pandemic to limit political gatherings. Specifically, any gathering deemed to be critical of the government is restricted using COVID-19 regulations, while mass gathering in stadiums for sports and entertainment are still allowed.

    As for restrictions on the freedom of expression, harsh reprisals against those speaking up have not been limited to opposition members and critics but have recently started to target dissenting voices within the ruling Party of the Revolution (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, CCM). On 31 August 2021, a CCM member of parliament, Jerry Silaa Ukonga, was suspended because during a meeting with his constituents he said that parliamentarians should pay income taxes. His suspension will deter other lawmakers from speaking up any matter that may be deemed critical of the government, as the parliamentary leadership is an extension of the executive rather than an independent pillar of government.

    Has the new government under President Suluhu – who came to power following the death of President John Magufuli – taken any steps to improve the conditions for civil society and the expression of dissent?

    First of all, calling it a ‘new government’ is a misnomer, because it is basically the same government, in which the former vice president became president and a little cabinet reshuffle took place, but most key positions were retained by the same group of people. There was some hope around the new minister responsible for foreign affairs, but for civil society not much has changed, as the mechanisms for the oversight of civil society organisations (CSOs) and the legal framework have remained in place.

    In fact, a by-law has been recently introduced whereby CSOs are not allowed to give out joint statements without previously developing a memorandum of understanding that needs to be submitted and registered with the NGO Registrar. So it’s the same laws and the same people who continue to be a threat to any open dissent. This continuity is visible in the government’s response to Tanzania’s Universal Periodic Review examination at the United Nations Human Rights Council, which hardly seems to have addressed any area of concern.

    The only visible difference under the new president has been the government’s admission of the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new president has introduced and encouraged COVID-19 preventative measures and Tanzania officially joined the COVAX initiative, as a result of which it has received vaccines.

    However, there has been no change regarding the key people overseeing health policies, and as a result trust in the government is low. The mixed messaging has led to apathy and disbelief; therefore, vaccine uptake is slow and even precautions are not enforced genuinely and systematically. Additionally, COVID-19 data has not been released in a regular and systematic manner. The government randomly releases ad hoc and aggregate numbers that are impossible to assess. There are evidently a lot of COVID-19-related deaths that go undocumented.

    Do you think the fact that the country has its first female president will make a difference for women’s rights?

    So far, nothing has changed. In fact, President Suluhu has fronted herself as a patriarchy enabler, both in rhetoric and appointments. She has adopted approaches similar to those used by previous governments to target opposition and dissent. She has even refused to lift a ban on pregnant schoolgirls from re-entering formal education after delivery.

    For real change to happen, a shift in fundamental structures needs to take place, starting with constitutional and legal reforms to enable political competition and allow access for more female decision-makers who are not dependent on patronage by the male-dominated leadership of the CCM. But President Suluhu is ignoring calls for constitutional reform. 

    What would the government need to do so that Tanzania becomes more open and democratic?

    Unfortunately, the government led by the CCM, which is in power as a result of an openly rigged election that was accompanied by one of the most violent post-election repression episodes, is not capable of driving any democratic reform. What is needed is a new constitution reflecting the will of the people. A good place to start would be the ‘Warioba draft’ – named after the chairperson of the Constitutional Review Commission, retired judge Joseph Warioba - that was published in 2013 and ditched at the last minute by CCM in October 2014, during its failed attempt to pass a new constitution through a constituent assembly.

    The process has to be revived and it has to be multi-party and involve the citizenry more broadly. But President Suluhu seems unwilling to do this, and in some cases, as in that of Freeman Mbowe, she has shown outright hostility towards the opposition. If its only goal is to cling to power, the government will not work on any real reforms. The sooner this becomes clear to everyone, the better.

    Besides writing a new constitution, the government would also need to improve accountability, especially by following up on the Controller and Auditor General’s (CAG) Annual Report. The first thing that President Suluhu did when she was sworn in was to ask the CAG to submit its report and promised that measures would be taken against those civil servants who were involved in wrongdoing. She also ordered a CAG special audit of the Central Bank for the first quarter of 2021. But the report was never published, and only a press statement was released which said that everything was in order. Regarding accountability and transparency, rejoining the Open Government Partnership would be a good starting point. The government should also introduce police and prison reforms and make new appointments for positions including judges, the Inspector General of Police, the Attorney General, the Chief Justice, and other positions to improve justice and social services.

    How can global civil society support civil society in Tanzania?

    The main focus should be on high-level, intense pressure on the government of Tanzania to engage with the opposition and credible civil society representatives and citizen groups in ushering in constitutional reforms so that by 2025 we will have laid down the foundations for free and fair elections. Otherwise, the next elections may put Tanzania on a very dangerous path in many regards.

    Global civil society needs to make sure that Tanzania is held accountable and that in all discussions fundamental structural and legal framework reforms are emphasised. It should make sure not to succumb to nice promising rhetoric and superficial cosmetic changes because allowing the government to get away with such flimsy actions will have very grave consequences.

    Those funding projects in Tanzania need to consider funding social movements and more loose coalitions of citizens and groups rather than small circles of civil society actors that embrace a top-down approach. This will have significant impacts on building a society conducive to the greater good and serving the wider population.

    Civic space inTanzaniais rated asrepressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Change Tanzania through itsFacebook page and follow@ChangeTanzania and@MariaSTsehai on Twitter.